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My best books of 2022

I didn’t read as many books this year, just sixty or so. That’s a large number by many standards, but it’s much lower than the 100 or so books I read in each of 2020 and 2021. Those were the pandemic years, though, when both the opportunity and the need to read more became very pronounced. 2022 was a more normal year, and my busyness meant that many books sat waiting their turn on the shelf.

Still, there were many riches uncovered. Here are the best of what I finished reading, both old and new.

Voltaire’s Candide, written in 1759, remains a delight. I treated myself to a clothbound edition and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is a comic novel about the many ridiculous tribulations we encounter in our lives, and the meaning that may, or may not, lie behind them. Priceless.

My standout new book was Suzanna Clarke’s Piranesi, a book that even defies description. It imagines a whole world inhabited by the eponymous hero, who lives a serene life inside an impossibly large mansion where entire ocean tides swell and ebb. As more characters start to enter the scene, we get an inkling about what this world actually is. A beautiful treatise about humans and nature, and about a philosophy of being.

I returned to Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion, a moving tale of forbidden love that moves from the East African coast to Britain. The desertions of the title are about men deserting women; women deserting cultures that stifle them; governments deserting their people. Marvellous writing by a true master.

If you want a book that evokes place vividly and frighteningly, Emma Stonex’s debut novel, The Lamplighters, is set on a remote lighthouse. It is the haunting story, based on a real occurrence, of three lighthouse-keepers who disappear without trace, and of the wives they leave behind. I read this one right next to the crashing sea, and it led me into a page-turning frenzy to find out what might have happened in this remarkable case.

Iain Reid is a new author whose very intriguing books I would never miss. Foe is a philosophical mind-bender of great suspense. A solitary rural couple are offered a deal they cannot turn down by a mysterious stranger. The man must travel far, far away; the woman must remain in the company of a replacement. A remarkably spooky tale about relationships, meaning, and togetherness.

Kamila Shamsie was back in 2022 with Best of Friends. We meet two girls in their childhood in Karachi in 1998, where one is a super-rich heiress and the other is a cerebral dreamer. The story then jumps to present-day London, where one is now a civil-rights activist and the other a venture capitalist. Can they still be friends? Are BFs really F? This great storyteller’s books are always topical, a lens through which to view our fast-changing world.

Leave The World Behind is Rumaan Alam’s much-anticipated book, already set to be a Netflix film. Two families are stranded in a remote Long Island house after a mysterious power outage sweeps the whole region. There is no way of communicating with the outside world. Can these strangers trust one another, as their anxieties grow? We’ve all lived through COVID, so this is one that grips and disturbs as it unfolds, but it is not just a suspense vehicle.

I went back to Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic, The Remains of the Day, and was engrossed all over again. Yet this is a book in which almost nothing happens. An English butler is reminiscing about his old life, in the service of a haughty aristocrat. He tells only of gatherings, of staff issues, of his work ethic. But hidden between those lines is the real story: of a man true to his calling who nonetheless thinks he may have served a great evil, and missed a great love. Sublime, allusive, and nonetheless devastating.

Patrick Modiano is a man whose writing demonstrates his complete love for his city, but also the fears and anxieties hidden in its misty streets that have troubled him all his life. The Black Notebook is one of his best, and as always it is about a troubled Parisian retracing his life and lost love, trying to make sense of what occurred in his youth. Short, dense, and remarkably powerful.

Anyone who loves words and writing should read How Words Get Good. Written by Rebecca Lee, “a professional text-improver”, it takes us on a journey on how words are born in an author’s brain and end up in the mind of the reader. We learn about agents and ghostwriters, typesetting and punctuation—and what goes wrong in the world of publishing. I found it fascinating; I suspect most bibliophiles will too.

Dr Doom is back! Nouriel Roubini scoffs at the moniker the media gave him after he correctly predicted the global financial crisis of 2008. He sees himself as Dr Realist, and he’s here to tell us of the ten huge challenges our current world faces in Megathreats. I gifted this one to a few CEOs—not to scare or depress them, but to get them to prepare for some potentially severe outcomes. Even if you’re an optimist, this is required reading.

And lastly, the thing we almost never read books about: food. What we put in our bodies affects everything, but we eat and diet in accordance with much received wisdom that may actually be just plain wrong. Professor Tim Spector puts us right in Spoon Fed, a vigorous debunking of common food myths with a good dose of common sense as well as scientific rigour. I am grateful to have been told of the massive dangers of ultraprocessed foods; and to be taken back to the ancient wisdom of putting as many plant varieties as possible into our diets.

That’s it for 2022. I notice that the ten books I picked had four of my all-time favourite authors, three of whom are Nobel Laureates. They are my preferences and my choices; your tastes may be very different. We can all learn about better books from one another, so perhaps this list will pique your interest. Happy reading!

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Picture credit: Montage compiled by Rachael Orina